Guilt, the Third Factor of Drug Addiction
There is always a reason a person starts to abuse drugs or alcohol. It could be as simple as boredom, a desire for excitement or adventure, or the fact that people the drug user wants to fit in with are using drugs. Very often, the first drug use happens in a social setting where someone offers the new user a joint, a smoke or a pill.
It can be hard to see the harm when those around you are using drugs like marijuana, ecstasy, alcohol or some other substance like cough syrup. After all, they seem to be having fun and don’t seem to be getting sick or being harmed.
Then drug use escalates, perhaps to daily use of alcohol or marijuana. Maybe the alcohol being consumed migrates from beer to hard liquor and the quantities increase. Or a person uses ecstasy every weekend rather than just once in a while. Or perhaps that escalation is to a heavier, more dangerous drug. Someone in a social setting pulls out powder or crack cocaine, or methamphetamine, or smokable heroin. Or maybe they have a stash of benzodiazepines or oxycodone or Rohypnol. That person who was only using a little marijuana or drinking now takes a step closer to an addiction that is beyond his or her control.
It’s a slippery slope when a person starts using drugs. It’s easy to lose track of how much is being consumed, and how often. Because drugs reduce awareness, it is easy to fail to notice that your consumption has increased in frequency, quantity or intensity. If a drug user were alertly aware of every effect on him of taking drugs, it is not very likely that he would become addicted. But awareness slips away imperceptibly.
Before a person using drugs realizes it, she is diverting money from living expenses or rent to buy more drugs or alcohol. At first, she can cover the gaps but then as her body builds tolerance, she needs more of the drug she is abusing, just to keep aches and pains away. In some cases, a drug user chases the high and euphoria of the first encounter with a particular drug, always taking more but never achieving the same result.
Because of the lowered awareness, he starts making mistakes at home or at work. There might be a car accident or two. He might get fired from a job or have losses in business. Once income is down, panic might set in. He might take the new flat screen TV and sell it, telling himself he can replace it later. Well, that’s his justification, anyway. It’s not out of the question that on Christmas Eve, he might pawn the kids’ presents. He (or she) may find himself committing acts that he would never have when he was not addicted – not in a million years.
In the beginning, the small errors and losses can be explained away. As the losses and mistakes get bigger, so do the challenges from family, spouses, bosses or whoever is in the immediate environment. The drug user gets defensive and hostile. She might accuse her challenger of not caring about her problems, not supporting her, after all, her boss/teacher was unfair in firing/penalizing/flunking her.
As the drug use grows, so do the problems and the excuses. Illnesses might start showing up, there might be arrests, more thefts of things around the house or maybe the parents are suddenly missing jewelry or money out of accounts. The family business might be short thousands of dollars.
Still, the drug user denies any problem or fault. It’s somewhere between hard and impossible for a family to understand the change in the behavior of someone they have always been able to trust and love. Facing the truth is hard for a family and nearly impossible for most people who are addicted.
By this time, the addicted person has committed so many dishonest, damaging actions that he would have a hard time living with himself if not for the drugs. When he’s high, he doesn’t notice the feelings of guilt. When he comes down off the drug, all the lies and thefts and mistakes can hit very hard. But another crack rock or few OxyContin or a fifth of Jack Daniels and he may not notice anymore.
This is how guilt helps keep a person trapped in addiction.
But it does not have to be permanent. A person can be freed from guilt and thus helped to achieve a stable, drug-free life.
- Part 7: How to Relieve Guilt
Series of articles explaining drug addiction